Saturday, 29 April 2017

Kurt Knispel 1920-1945 Germany's greatest Tank ace

This weekend 72 years ago the greatest German tank ace of them all was killed in action in Czechoslovakia, just a week before the end of WW2.
He was born on September 20, 1921 in Czechoslovakia in a small town called Salisfled. When he was of age he joined his father in an automotive factory, but this didn't suit him so volunteered for the Wehrmacht in April, 1940.
Knispel began  his basic training at the Panzer Replacement Training Battalion at Sagan. After his basic training he went on to Panzer training, learning to operate the PzKpfw I, II and IV. In October he went to the 3rd Kompanie of the 29th Panzer Regiment, 12th Panzer Division to finish his training as a gunner/loader on the PzKpfw IV. Although demonstrating exceptional abilities as a gunner at the training school at Putlos (he had a gift of three-dimensional vision as well as extraordinary reflexes, but alas he was to remain a loader.
Knispel got his first taste of action in August, 1941 in a PzKpfw IV, and during Operation Barbarossa he quickly rose up to be gunner under the command of Leutnant Hellmann. In January, 1942, Knispel returned to Putlos for training to be a gunner on the new Tiger tank, and also at this time he already had 12 enemy tank kills to his credit.
He then went to the 1st Kompanie of the 503rd Heavy Panzer Division, which was equipped with the Tiger. He took part in the Battle of Kursk as flank cover to the 7th Panzer Division. From there he went on to command a Tiger II with the 503rd.
Four times Knispel was recommended for the Knight's Cross, but was to never receive it. Although awards did not bother him as he was not driven by fame or decorations. Knispel's records list 168 confirmed tank kills, but when unconfirmed victories are included, the total adds up to 195, which still makes him the most successful tank ace of WW2.
One of these kills was against a Soviet T-34 at a range of 3,000 metres.
Knispel was awarded the Iron Cross First Class (15 kills), and also the Tank Assault Badge in Gold for more than 100 tanks destroyed. After destroying 126 tanks he received the German Gold Cross, and was the only NCO to be mentioned in the Wehrmacht communique in WW2.
Knispel also credited other people with kills which had been his own. He also shied away from this kind of argument and was known for his affable nature.
Knispel was a natural tank commander, and at times he faced superior numbers alone so as to give the units he was supporting the best chance to advance or retreat.
Knispel when he was on the field of battle never abandoned anyone whatever the situation was.
His final battle was in Wostitz, where he was fatally wounded on April 28, 1945 at the age of just 23.
Due to his lack of authority to higher ranks his progression through the ranks was slow. He even slapped an officer who was mistreating Soviet PoW's. He had longer hair and a goatee beard and a tattoo on his neck. But above all he was well liked by his fellow comrades in arms.
His final tally was 168 kills, which makes him the Greatest Tank Ace of WW2, beating Wittmann who scored 139 kills, and Otto Carius who scored 150+.
On April 10, 2013 Czech authorities discovered Knispel's remains (he had been identified by the tattoo on his neck).






List of high scoring tank commanders (courtesy of Wikipedia)

NameCountryRankUnitTankNumber of tanks credited withNotes
Kurt Knispel GermanyFeldwebel503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion12th Panzer DivisionTiger I168Destroyed 168 tanks, the highest number of tanks destroyed by any tank ace. Knispel was the top tank ace of World War II [
Otto Carius GermanyOberleutnant502nd Heavy Panzer BattalionTiger I / Jagdtiger150+Published post-war memoirs Tigers in the Mud; described as a "Panzer ace" in his English-language obituary
Johannes Bölter GermanyHauptmann502nd Heavy Panzer BattalionTiger I139Destroyed 139 enemy tanks. Referenced in Wolfgang Schneider's "Tigers in Combat, Volume 1" 
Michael Wittmann GermanySS-Hauptsturmführer101st SS Heavy Panzer BattalionStuG III / Tiger I139Destroyed 138 tanks. 
Karl Körner GermanyHauptscharführer503rd Heavy Panzer BattalionTiger II102
Ernst Barkmann GermanyOberscharführerSS-Panzer-Regiment 2Panzer III / Panther tank82Destroyed 82 tanks. His action was referenced in Christer Bergstrom's "The Ardennes, 1944-1945" 
Willi Fey GermanyOberscharführerSchwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 502Tiger I80+
Emil Siebold GermanyLeutnant2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich
1st Panzer Division (Wehrmacht)
T-3469Though German, Siebold's unit was equipped with captured Russian T-34s. He used one to destroy 69 enemy tanks
Dmitry Lavrinenko Soviet UnionSenior Leutnant1st Guards Tank BrigadeT-3458Most successful Russian and allied tank ace in WWII. 
Gerhard Brehmer GermanyOberfeldwebel1st Company, Panzer Battalion 52Panther51
Kurt Ohler GermanyUnter-OffizierStuGAbt. 270StuG III47
Weerts Johann GermanyObersturmfuhrer4./SS-Panzer-Regiment - 5. SS-Panzer Division "WikingStuG III39+Had destroyed 39 tanks by the time he was awarded German Gold cross in 1944, likely his total tally was more by end of war. 
Wolfgang von Bostell GermanyFeldwebelPanzerjäger-Sturmgeschütz-Kompanie 1023
Panzerjäger-Abteilung 205
Tiger I28
Zvika Greengold IsraelCaptain188th Armor BrigadeCenturion (tank)20Personally claimed 20 enemy tanks destroyed, but others credited him with up to 60.

Sydney Valpy Radley-Walters CanadaBrigadier GeneralSherbrooke Fusilier RegimentSherman Firefly18
© Darren Greenwood 2017



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